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Bruins' Prospects Battle For Shot at National Championship

by Zach Guerette / Boston Bruins

BOSTON – The stage has been set, the logos have been painted on the boards and the teams have arrived at TD Garden for the Frozen Four weekend here on Wednesday, April 8. With them comes Bruins prospects, as Boston University defenseman and captain Matthew Grzelcyk, as well as University of North Dakota goaltender and Hobey Baker finalist Zane McIntyre, took to the Garden ice on Wednesday for their team’s practices.

Grzelcyk, drafted in the third round (85th overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, will be facing off against McIntyre, drafted in the sixth round (165th overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. in the national semifinal game. The winner will move on to play either Providence College or University of Nebraska-Omaha for the national championship.

The Terriers come into this matchup winning seven straight games and boast an undefeated 4-0 record while playing on TD Garden ice this season, winning both the Hockey East and Beanpot titles. Grzelcyk aims to stay cool and block out distractions while paying in his home city.

“I think once the puck drops, you kind of black out of it and don't really pay attention too much to the crowd or what's going on," Grzelcyk said. “I think the team who can eliminate distractions will have the most success. … We've won a couple championships -- that will kind of put us at ease going into the first period or so. But after that, it really comes down to the X's and O's and who's going to win their one‑on‑one battles.”

While growing up in Thief River Falls, Minn. -- only an hour away from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, N.D. -- McIntyre is no stranger to Boston, having attended the last five Bruins summer development camps.

“It's been good," McIntyre said. "Like Matt said, it's a real narrow focus here that we're coming for business, so it's been fun so far, and we're looking forward to the rest of the weekend.”

The matchup will be a hard-fought battle, as UND (No. 1) and BU (No. 2) are the top-ranked college hockey teams in the nation. The Terriers enter Thursday’s game with the second-ranked scoring offense in the country (3.85 goals per game). That offense is led by Grzelcyk, ranked fourth nationally among defensemen in scoring with a career-high 10 goals and 27 assists, as well as Chelmsford, Mass., native Jack Eichel, who leads the nation in points (67), assists (43) and points per game (1.76).

A big part of BU’s success this year has been attributed to Grzelcyk improving his offensive game.

“When the puck is on his stick, he continues to make good decisions,” said Boston University Head Coach David Quinn. “He's got incredible ability to lose the first forechecker. His defensive side of the game continues to get better and better. He's not a big guy, but he's physical and he gets to people quickly.

“His shot has improved tenfold in the last two years, and he works hard at it. There's a reason he's been scoring at an alarming rate over the last two months.”

However, the biggest impact that Grzelcyk has made to this young Terriers team has been his ability to lead by example.

“We had 10 freshmen, totally new to the whole college scene,” said Jack Eichel. “On campus, and workouts, whatever it was, he was the guy running everything. But a leader can't tell people to do stuff if he's not doing it himself. That's one thing that's jumped out at me with Grizz, is how hard he works.

“He expects a lot out of himself, and he's definitely hard on himself, but he's an unbelievable player, and he's an even better person. I'm really happy to call him my captain,” Eichel added with a smile.

The attributes and responsibilities that a team captain needs to possess seemed to be universally understood by the Boston University squad this year. Quinn even compared his captain to one of the all-time NHL greats.

“At this age, when you ask your team to vote for your captain, a lot can go into that," Quinn said. “Sometimes, it's a popularity contest; sometimes they look to the best players. But the one thing that jumped out at me when our team voted on our next captain [was] I thought our team fully understood what a captain needed to be, and there was no mystery to why Matt Grzelcyk was named our captain last year.

“You watch him practice, you watch him interact with his teammates -- there [are] a lot of different ways to be a captain, and he kind of reminds me a little bit of Joe Sakic. He's got a great personality, but he's not loud. But when he speaks, he means what he says. And not only does he say it, he backs it up."

On the other side of the ice stands the top-ranked University of North Dakota, led by junior goaltender McIntyre with a league-best 29-9-3 record, 2.00 goals against average and .931 save percentage. McIntyre sits in the UND record books as the all-time leader in career goals-against average and save percentage. He has played in all but one game for UND this season, was named the NCHC goaltender of the year, All-NCHC First Team selection, NCHC Player of the Year finalist and has been selected as one of the three Hobey Baker Finalists that will be chosen on Friday, April 10 at Northeastern University's Matthews Arena.

As the home team going into tomorrow’s game, UND is occupying the Bruins’ locker room, a place that McIntyre could be frequenting in the future.

“It's hard not to notice the big B in the middle of the floor,” McIntyre said. “The focus is narrow and stuff, and all my energy and all my effort is for this weekend here. Everything on the ice will take care of itself. I think that's kind of been a mentality that I learned at a young age.”

UND Head Coach Dave Hakstol said trust is a huge mental advantage when going into a hockey game.

“I always look in key positions for presence in players, and that I can speak to,” Hakstol said. “I think Zane -- whether it's off the ice, away from a game day, or a game day on the ice -- I think Zane brings that presence of a No. 1 goaltender, and I know our guys in the locker room, we talk a lot about trust, trusting one another, and our team has a lot of trust in Zane as a person and as a teammate.”

McIntyre and Grzelcyk have been fellow Bruins prospects and fellow NCAA athletes for a couple of years now and have developed a personal relationship over that time. When asked about it, McIntyre smiled and reflected.

“Grizz and I went to [development] camp I think the past couple years,” he said. “I think it was his third camp this summer, my fifth. It feels like a long time. We've had a good relationship, obviously, at those camps. It's kind of a little cliquey, I guess, with college guys hanging out together and OHL and the major junior guys. We got to know Grizz pretty well over the past couple summers, and it's been pretty cool to see him grow and develop here at BU.

“There's been texts here and there throughout the summers that we've met. I think there's maybe been an Instagram selfie or something thrown in there, too,” he joked.

As the Frozen Four tournament commences on Thursday night, we will all be eagerly watching two of Boston’s top prospects battle it out for the chance to be an NCAA National Champion.

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